As student, alumni demands increase, YLS Dean Gerken speaks out against Capitol violence — but not Sen. Hawley
Yale Law School Dean Heather Gerken spoke out against the Capitol riots on Tuesday, signing a joint statement with other law school deans and sending an email to the Law School community denouncing lawyers who attack the legitimacy of free and fair elections without evidence.
That group of lawyers includes Sen. Josh Hawley LAW ’06, who has come under fire for being the first senator to object to certifying the Electoral College vote — and for doubling down on his false claims after a deadly riot at the U.S. Capitol.
But despite calls for her to condemn the senator by name and revoke his degree, Gerken has not publicly spoken out against the YLS graduate. Gerken originally sent an email to the YLS community on Jan. 7 in which she called the Capitol riots “an assault to democracy” and “a shameful moment in our history” but did not mention Hawley. Gerken took a stronger stance against the violence and the lawyers involved in the attempts to overturn the election in her Tuesday email, which refrained from naming Hawley but expressed concerns about the actions of “some who have graduated from the Law School.”
“It is not my role as dean to comment on individual proceedings against specific graduates, but I support efforts to hold accountable any lawyer — from any law school — who fails to uphold the duties of our profession,” Gerken wrote in her Tuesday email. “And as a professor who has cherished the opportunity to teach a generation of Yale Law graduates, I am deeply saddened whenever any graduate falls short of the high expectations of this profession or this Law School.”
The joint statement, which was also signed by 156 other law school deans, condemns last Wednesday’s violence at the U.S. Capitol and calls out “some lawyers” for their unsupported claims challenging the outcome of the 2020 election, saying they had “betrayed the values” of the legal profession.
The statement and Gerken’s Tuesday email come in the wake of three petitions and letters that have been circulating among the Yale Law School community concerning Hawley’s actions and the Law School’s response. The first letter, released on Jan. 1 and signed by more than 750 Law School students, alumni, faculty and staff, condemns Hawley’s objection to the Electoral College vote certification. Another petition, released Jan. 7 and signed by 100 Law School students and one staff member, demands that Gerken and University President Peter Salovey revoke Hawley’s Juris Doctor degree. The final petition, released on Jan. 8 and signed by more than 9,000 lawyers and law students from across the country, calls for the Missouri, Texas and District of Columbia Bar Associations to disbar Hawley and Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas.
Hawley came under criticism in late December when he became the first senator to commit to challenging the results of the election, pledging he would object to the congressional certification of Electoral College results.
Then, on Jan. 6, Hawley was photographed raising his fist in support of the pro-Trump mob gathered outside the Capitol to stop the congressional certification of results. He has since faced widespread criticism for helping to incite the violence that resulted in five deaths. Hawley did not respond to the News’ requests for comment.
“It is exceedingly rare for deans to speak together on an issue that falls outside the ambit of legal education,” Gerken said in a statement given to the News. “It is rarer, still, to have such a remarkably diverse group of deans speak as one. That is a sign of how important these issues are to our profession and to the rule of law.”
Jenny Choi LAW ’21, Chandini Jha LAW ’21, Daniel Ki LAW ’21 and Ramis Wadood LAW ’21 helped draft the petition to disbar Hawley and Cruz. Choi explained that the petition provides a clear statement from the legal profession rejecting the actions that Hawley and Cruz took to denigrate democratic institutions, the courts and the Constitution. Their petition has since gained international attention.
Wadood said that he wants Gerken to revoke Hawley’s Juris Doctor degree to indicate that Yale Law School and other elite law schools will not stand by “the actions of their products.” According to Choi, Hawley’s actions were “fundamentally misfitting” with his status as a lawyer. While the University has rescinded an honorary degree in the past, it would be an unprecedented move to revoke Hawley’s earned degree for reasons other than academic dishonesty or fraud.
In an email last Friday to “The Wall,” a Law School group email list, Kalind Parish LAW ’23 — the organizer of the petition for Salovey and Gerken to revoke Hawley’s Juris Doctor degree — wrote that he recognized that the petition’s request is unprecedented, but “so is leading an insurrection against the government as it meets to certify an election.”
“Once you practice law, you are bound by certain ethical rules, a code of conduct, and Josh Hawley and Ted Cruz’s actions over the past week, especially on Wednesday, violated the most elementary of those ethics rules,” Wadood said. “Everything that Josh Hawley and Ted Cruz have done leading up to their incitement of the insurrection on Wednesday has been to erode and fight against [the United States’ democratic] institutions and those principles of justice and fairness and the law.”
In addition to condemnation from the Law School community, Hawley is also facing professional rebukes. Former Sen. John Danforth LAW ’63 DIV ’63, R-Mo., told The Associated Press that mentoring and raising support for Hawley was the “biggest mistake [he has] ever made.”
Sens. Chris Coons LAW ’92 DIV ’92, D-Del., and Sherrod Brown ’74, D-Ohio, have both called for Hawley to resign from the United States Senate in recent days. Danforth, Coons and Brown each did not respond to the News’ request for comment.
“Our democratic institutions are in crisis right now, including the practice of law,” Democratic Georgia state Rep. Josh McLaurin LAW ’14 wrote in a statement to the News. “As a lawyer and government official, Josh Hawley is charged with protecting those institutions. Instead, he has deliberately done the opposite for his own short-sighted political gain, and the country has watched the resulting damage in horror.”
Hawley faced additional condemnation on Thursday when the publishing company Simon & Schuster canceled its publication of Hawley’s book “The Tyranny of Big Tech,” which was scheduled for publication in June. In a recent statement, the company said they “cannot support Senator Hawley after his role in what became a dangerous threat.” In response, Hawley released a statement claiming that Simon & Schuster’s actions constituted a “direct assault” on the First Amendment, which many lawyers have noted applies only to the government, not private entities.
Irina Manta ’03 LAW ’06, who was in the Yale Federalist Society — the Yale Law School chapter of a national organization dedicated to mentoring young conservative lawyers — with Hawley during their time at the Law School, told the News that Hawley knows “fully well” that the canceled contract has nothing to do with the First Amendment and he is instead acting for his own political gain.
“This is again an example of being a demagogue and just inflaming things further,” Manta said. “You have to ask yourself, what kind of a person sees what happened on Wednesday … and inflames people further?”
Hawley was the president of the Yale Federalist Society during his final year at the Law School.
Julia Brown | firstname.lastname@example.org
Clarification, Jan. 12: The article’s headline has been updated to acknowledge that Gerken sent her initial email condemning the Capitol riots on Jan. 7, the same day as the first of the two petitions.